Tuesday, May 23, 2017

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - june 3, 2017

So this is one of those weeks where I expected a lot of activity... and I didn't get it. This was supposed to be a week where Harry Styles and to a lesser extent Paramore impacted the charts... and it didn't happen. In fact, if we're looking at a week where summer grooves seems to be settling into gear, it's here, which led to a little more stability than I expected.

And nowhere is this more pronounced than our top ten, where for the first time in weeks the #1 is stable with 'Despacito' by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and the remix with Justin Bieber. And it looks like with the exception of US YouTube, it might hold for some time, as it's dominant in sales and streaming and airplay has real momentum. And while it is facing competition, it's not really coming from 'That's What I Like' by Bruno Mars, which might have stronger airplay margins for now, but that is slipping as it's getting outstripped in every category except YouTube, even despite real strength in sales. The real competition is 'I'm The One' by DJ Khaled and his posse holding at #3 - better airplay traction and YouTube, it's just lagging a bit in sales and streaming, and enough radio can easily compensate for that. Then - somehow still holding on - is 'Shape Of You' by Ed Sheeran at #4, and I don't know what to tell you, despite slipping on YouTube and sales, it's still got a ton of radio and streaming is mostly solid. Not quite the case for 'HUMBLE.' by Kendrick Lamar holding onto #5 - yes, on-demand streaming is great and it's getting better radio than I think anyone expected, but overall streaming numbers are slipping, and while it's still holding, there's a part of me that doesn't think this'll last long in the top 10 against serious competition. It will hold against 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay, which may have risen to #6 on slowing radio momentum, but given that its sales and streaming are shrinking, I put it more on the slip of 'Mask Off' by Future down to #7 on streaming losses, stagnant sales and the radio stalling out. Might be a similar case for 'XO Tour Llif3' by Lil Uzi Vert at #8 - still has considerable YouTube and streaming with nothing else - but then again, I've been predicting a slide for this for a while and it's still here! Then there's 'Stay' by Alessia Cara and Zedd at #9 - lot of radio and sales traction with no real signs of stopping, I can see this getting higher - and this leads to our single new arrival to the top ten: 'Malibu' by Miley Cyrus. It's here thanks to big sales and not insignificant streaming to soar off its debut, but the radio seems a little tentative on it, so it'll be interesting to see how much staying power it'll have, or if it sticks to the top 10.

And on that promising note, losers and dropouts - and if we're looking for the area where things slowed down the most, it's here. Most of our dropouts were fading naturally - 'Down' by Marian Hill, 'Moves' by Big Sean, 'Shining' by DJ Khaled ft. Beyonce and Jay Z - and most of our losses fall in similar predictable territory. 'Good Life' by G-Eazy and Kehlani goes to 90 because the new Fast & The Furious movie has faded pretty quickly and the song is somehow more forgettable, '1-800-273-8255' by Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid goes to 64 because the album hype is fading, and 'Yeah Boy' by Kelsea Ballerini goes to 84 as it fades away naturally.

Where things get a little more interesting comes in our returning arrivals and gains, where in the former category we got two: 'My Old Man' by the Zac Brown Brand returning to 87 thanks to the album, and 'Bon Appetit' by Katy Perry and Migos going to 59 because of that godawful video. And considering how Katy Perry continues to routinely humiliate herself surrounding this song, even despite the YouTube I can see this being roundly ignored and flopping pretty hard. As for gains... well, I already talked about 'Malibu', and while I'd love to talk about how 'Redbone' broke the top 30 by some miracle, the only significant gain we got this week was for 'Drinkin' Problem' by Midland up to 85 off the debut. That's it, one country gain that everyone could have seen coming... wow.

So okay, might be a short week here, let's get to our new arrivals, starting with...

100. 'Me Enamore' by Shakira - I have to admit, I'm a little surprised that even though Shakira's lead-off single for her upcoming record was in Spanish, she's not following it with an English single for crossover - and I checked the album, there does appear to be songs in English on the record! And yeah, there's a part of me that's a little disappointed, because I've always found Shakira to be a fascinating and unique songwriter in English and to me it doesn't always translate in Spanish. And it doesn't help when the production is pretty lackluster too. Yes, Shakira's a potent presence on any pop song, but when you give her a pretty basic love song, the production needs to be on point to make special and this... yeah, no. The pitch-shifted squeaking all over the hook, the hollowed, glitching melodies, the by-the-numbers trap touches around the tropical percussion, it feels entirely too stiff and mechanical for a singer as limber and organic as Shakira, and it sure as hell does not capture anything lovestruck or even all that melodic! Yeah, hate to say it for as much as I like Shakira, but this is pretty mediocre, and gave me a headache a lot faster than it should have - not a good sign.

98. 'Ghost In This House' by Lauren Duski - okay, context here: apparently there is still still some fragment of relevance for The Voice, because contestant Lauren Duski managed to lodge this on the charts, a cover of a 1990 country song originally recorded by Shenandoah, a perennially unlucky country band that despite five #1 hits on the country charts hasn't exactly been remembered by many country fans in comparison with more of the neotraditional scene that emerged around the same time. Now this was not one of those #1s, and it's easy to see why: it played much closer to easy listening radio in its tones and production despite being a decent enough song. And honestly, I might actually prefer Lauren Duski's cover more - the country guitar tones have more body in comparison to the flimsy tones you often got in the late 80s and early 90s from mainstream country, Duski conveys melancholy impressively well, and for a live cut, the strings and pedal steel sound great. I know that The Voice isn't really relevant anymore, but this... yeah, not bad at all.

95. 'No Promises' by Cheat Codes ft. Demi Lovato - I've been hearing rumblings from some friends of mine that this song was coming for the Hot 100 and that it wasn't good, but truth is I've been aware of Cheat Codes for some time now. They're a trio of DJs in the tradition of Swedish House Mafia or Major Lazer, and while their breakout hit 'Sex' did well around the world, they got Demi Lovato to break into the US market. And though I hate to say it... yeah, not all that good. For one, I have no idea why they told Demi Lovato to stick with her high cooing on the verses - she's a raw belter, that range doesn't flatter her at all, especially when Cheat Codes make her vocal pickup sound so damn frail, even if they eventually give her the space she needs - and of course, Cheat Codes didn't even produce the vocals! And yet she's not the only singer on the song, with DJ Trevor Dahl stepping up and honestly not being all that impressive, especially as he's playing hesitant in asking Demi not to fall that fast. But my larger issue comes in the production as a whole - hollow synths and pianos with a blocky trap beat that eventually break into a drop that sounds like a clumsy DJ Snake imitation that's hollowed out even further. Overall, though, it just feels like a shrill, clumsy imitation of a sound that feels increasingly forgettable, which is something I hate to say about Demi Lovato. If she ever does put out that next album, can she go back to pop rock and not this - please?

93. 'Felices Los 4' by Maluma - and on the topic of Shakira, thanks to the success of 'Chantaje', she's giving other Colombian artists a shot at the American spotlight - and with 'Despacito' currently at #1, you can expect more Spanish-speaking artists to persist on the Hot 100, especially if their sound is ready and able to crossover. So enter Maluma, who has been racking up considerable success in South America and on the Latin charts, but this is his first solo hit to land on the Hot 100. And it's not a bad one: it's still a little weird to have acoustic guitar backing up a blocky beat and hints of trap hi-hats, but it at least has a little more organic flavor to anchor the tones, and the guitar lines aren't bad at all. And when you translate the lyrics... honestly, I'm surprised how much they work for me, taking a situation where both people in the relationship have found new partners despite drifting back to each other, and instead of playing it with overwrought angst like Hinder did on 'Lips Of An Angel' or depression like on Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow's 'Picture', Maluma is more practical: the more the merrier, let's make the bedroom bigger and all be happy! Now let's be clear, this only works because the entire song seems to play things with a borderline comic sensibility thanks to how inevitable it seems, kind of reminiscent of that Burt Reynolds and Sybil Shephard musical from the 70s At Long Last Love directed by Peter Bogdanovich that really is nowhere near as bad as so many have said. And like that movie, this only works because our lead has charisma and seems to be having fun, which seems true here - he's not at Shakira levels, but really, who is? In other words, I might be lukewarm on the increased number of Latin songs on the charts right now, but I like this, pretty solid.

92. 'Whatever It Takes' by Imagine Dragons - okay, so 'Believer' was an clusterfuck of AWOLNATION-proportions, but 'Thunder' had some promise, and I'd like to think that Imagine Dragons was able to correct their course even further with another promotional single... and here's the thing, once you reconcile with the fact that it doesn't really sound like anything Imagine Dragons has ever released, you'd see some actual quality here. The glassy blur of guitars that eventually picks up real grinding swell on the hook, muted tones that surround Dan Reynolds' very fast delivery on the verses, and a percussion groove that might feel mechanical but never stiff or clunky, and vocals that actually sound like they're in Reynolds' comfort zone for once, this is solid stuff. And yet the more I read through the lyrics... there's an odd sense of grim cynicism that runs through them that can be a little jarring, as he acknowledges the costs of falling for fame and a deepseated fear of living the 'typical' life, but it's the bridge that seems to say more, acknowledging their music was a part of the system with a vision that has slipped them by, and he's going to do whatever it takes to claim some of it and reclaim a feeling of significance. Overall, the more listens I give this song the less I'm entirely sure that I like it, but it's probably the best track I've heard from the new album thus far and it does raise some interesting questions, so okay Imagine Dragons, you've got my attention.

80. 'Bad Liar' by Selena Gomez - I don't think there is a pop star that has frustrated me as much in recent years as Selena Gomez. I liked a fair few of her songs with the scene, but Stars Dance was an utterly abysmal record. Her comeback record Revival had its moments, but I'd only ever call it okay at best, just tepid and lyrically inert. And yet her song with Kygo has been one of my favourite hits thus far this year, so I had at least a hope there'd be something to her new single 'Bad Liar' that'd be worth the listen, especially considering it's interpolating a bassline from the Talking Heads' 'Psycho Killer'! And... look, it's no 'Psycho Killer' - if anything, it reminds me more of 'Hands to Myself' with the incredibly close pickup on the hand percussion and how thin Selena's voice sounds across the song - hate to say it, but someone with her vocals should really opt for vocal production with a little more body, not those weedy little synth fragments or pitch-shifting, or at the very least not try to belt on the bridge like she does here. And that's before you get to the writing... and again, it's less that it's outright bad as it is just weird - that Battle of Troy reference does make a weird sort of sense in capturing the intensity of passion, but it's awkward juxtaposed against lines describing the lover as 'serpentine', a sentiment not mirrored in the groove, or how Selena describes herself as an amenity, or the bridge where she says 'let's make reality, actuality, a reality', where I get the sentiment but that's just the wrong way to say it. Again, it's frustrating because Selena has constructed something of a submissive sexual persona that on the surface seems interesting, but the more I decode the song there's just not much here. It's certainly not better than 'It Ain't Me' or even 'Good For You' which had the benefit of atmosphere, but this... the best thing about it came from a song from forty years ago that could at least ground its weirdness - go listen to that instead.

62. 'Rollin' by Calvin Harris ft. Future & Khalid - you know, I can't believe I'm saying this... but Calvin Harris might be on a hot streak. 'Slide' had a great bounce and groove to it and managed to make the match of Migos and Frank Ocean ridiculously fun, and when he managed to make the combination of Pharrell, Young Thug, and Ariana Grande work on 'Heatstroke' especially with that hook, I had no idea what to expect. But now he's got a meatier challenge: blending Future's dark brand of melancholic nihilism with Khalid's more soulful touches, and that can be tough to match to a dance groove. I mean, credit to Calvin Harris for trying with the watery cascades of synth against the more staccato bassline and shimmering cascades touching off the piano, but compared to 'Slide' and 'Heatstroke' this can't help but a lesser cut. And it's for exactly the reason I predicted: Khalid's post-breakup angst and Future's blur of brand names paired with admittance of his monstrous nature and more flubbed rhymes feel like they need production that's darker with a little more smolder, not this lockstep groove that doesn't even function as a good driving song! I don't think this is precisely a bad track, but it could have used a little more groove to stick the landing, at least for me. Not bad by any stretch, but not exactly great either - but again, the production's the best of this, so Calvin Harris' streak continues?

Well, it's not the best or worst of this week: for that, I'm giving the best to 'Felices Los 4' by Maluma with Honourable Mention to that 'Ghost In This House' cover by Lauren Duski, and worst... eh, nothing really stuck out as outright awful, but both 'No Promises' by Cheat Codes and Demi Lovato and 'Me Enamore' by Shakira blew the potential of their respective divas, so Dishonourable Mention and Worst in that order. Next week... hell, knowing our luck, it'll probably be a few Machine Gun Kelly songs, but we can only hope otherwise. Stay tuned!